A fearful avoidant attachment style may cause you to long for intimacy while simultaneously rejecting it.

According to attachment theory, children form attachments to at least one primary caregiver during their early years.

This attachment relationship can lead to an overall attachment style, which stays with the child as they move through life. Attachment styles can significantly affect adult relationships.

Fearful avoidant attachment, also called disorganized attachment, is an insecure attachment. People with a fearful avoidant attachment style tend to have difficulty trusting others, but at the same time, crave closeness and security.

But with the right support, many people with a fearful avoidant attachment style are able to cope and develop healthy and loving relationships.

The signs of fearful avoidant attachment can vary from person to person, so children and adults with this attachment style may only show a few of the signs listed below.

Some may display more characteristics related to avoidant attachment while others show more signs of fearful attachment.

Keep in mind that many of these signs can be symptoms of underlying mental health conditions, including depression and social anxiety, and don’t necessarily indicate fearful avoidant attachment.

Signs in children

  • Appearing conflicted about whether or not they want to be close to their caregiver.
  • Being distressed when they need to be separated from their caregiver but showing anger or disinterest when reuniting with them.
  • Showing poor self-regulation, such as having frequent temper tantrums or emotional meltdowns.
  • Rarely feeling safe.
  • Having poor personal boundaries; swinging between oversharing or not sharing at all.
  • Seeking adult attention only to quickly reject the adult when they get it.
  • Having a hard time keeping long-term friends.
  • Showing no difference in affection between strangers and loved ones.

While they are developed during the early childhood years, attachment styles can also continue to affect relationships well into adulthood.

Signs in adults

  • You find it difficult to open up to others.
  • You tend to keep conversations on the surface level because it’s uncomfortable to be vulnerable.
  • You have a negative view of both yourself and others.
  • You don’t feel like you can connect to people in the way that you want.
  • You cut people off quickly if they do something to hurt you.
  • You often dissociate from your emotions.
  • You long for a deep and loving relationship but you worry that you’ll never find one.
  • You find it hard to keep relationships going for a long period.
  • You withdraw when you feel vulnerable or emotional.
  • You have a hard time self-soothing your emotions.
  • You believe, deep down, that others will always let you down or hurt you.
  • You agree to relationships, including sexual relationships, even when you don’t really want them.

Adults with a fearful-avoidant attachment style may be more vulnerable to mental health conditions like depression and social anxiety. They may also have a higher number of sexual partners, according to a 2017 study.

According to attachment theory, different attachment styles are formed as a result of the relationship that you have with a primary caregiver as an infant. An infant who has a positive, nurturing, and safe relationship with their caregiver will likely form a secure attachment style.

Fearful-avoidant attachment tends to stem from unpredictable behaviors from the parent or caregiver. If you have a fearful avoidant attachment style, your primary caregiver may have given you affection only to suddenly withdraw it.

Your parent may have been inconsistent and, for whatever reason, failed to provide you with appropriate nurturing when you felt fearful or insecure.

If you developed a fearful avoidant attachment style during childhood, then it may still be affecting your relationships and daily life today. This may be especially true if neither you nor your parent received intervention to correct the attachment when you were younger.

But there are still ways to cope with and heal from a fearful-avoidant attachment style and learn how to maintain healthy and loving relationships.

  • Gain more knowledge: Educate yourself on the fearful-avoidant attachment style and how your attachment style affects your relationships today. Learn to be conscious of when this attachment style is getting in the way of your relationships.
  • Look inward for validation: Work to stop seeking approval and validation outside of yourself. Learn how to love yourself from within and become less dependent on others’ approval, this can take time but
  • Set personal boundaries: Many people with a fearful-avoidant attachment style have trouble with boundaries; you may overshare or be too distant. Figure out where your boundaries are and what you need to feel comfortable in relationships.
  • Communicate your needs: Instead of waiting for people to show you affection, let them know what you need from them to feel valued. For example, you might tell your partner that you need more words of affirmation.
  • Learn the important skill of self-regulation: You may feel triggered or upset when you feel neglected in your relationships. Learn how to identify and cope with these painful emotions. Self-soothing is an important skill.
  • Work on conflict resolution skills: When you feel tempted to cut people out of your life, try giving them a second chance. Use healthy communication skills to work through conflict, even when it’s uncomfortable, rather than shutting down.

Many people with a fearful-avoidant attachment style may also need professional support to learn how to strengthen their relationships and cope with painful feelings.

This is especially important if you live with mental health conditions like social anxiety or if you’re a survivor of childhood abuse.

A therapist can help you:

  • Identify and challenge unhelpful thinking patterns
  • explore life experiences that have led you to where you are today
  • explore and cope with triggers in your current life

With their support, you can heal from childhood trauma or challenges and build positive and healthy relationships that meet your emotional needs.